Sunday, August 12, 2012

Florida State Parks - Southeast Region

Florida is blessed with one of the most extensive state park systems in the country. And, despite the presence of a criminal presently residing in the Governor’s mansion, it’s state parks are among the best managed nationally.

On moving to Florida in March 2008 I discovered that just like the National Park Service system, the Florida state parks system maintains a passport stamp program. Each state park has a stamp unique to it and if you slog your way through all of the parks in the system (currently 152 of them) and obtain a stamp for each one, you receive a complimentary front license place from the parks agency

Not all parks are able to maintain an active onsite staff (another of Governor Rick Scott’s many accomplishments) however passport stamps for those parks can be obtained at larger nearby parks.  For instance, the stamp for unmanned Cedar Key Scrub Preserve is obtained at nearby Cedar Key Museum.

The first state park I visited in Florida was Collier-Seminole in Collier County. There I purchased my first passport stamp book and after traveling around the state for a year I finished obtaining stamps for all of the parks at Big Lagoon State Park in Escambia County Not satisfied to leave it there, I purchased another passport stamp book and completed the second round of visits at Fort Zachary Taylor in Key West – at the exact opposite end of the state from Big Lagoon.

Not many people have completed one circuit of the state park system let alone two times. That day at Fort Zach I purchased a third passport stamp book and in June 2011 finished filling it out at Torreya State Park in the Panhandle.  Currently I am working on a fourth round of visits to each state park. When that’s completed I’ll do it a fifth time.

Because you can obtain stamps for the unmanned parks without actually visiting them, I decided during my third round of visits that I would go one step further in obtaining documentation of my visits.

This time around I began photographing the entrance sign for each of them.  Doing so turned into a challenge because places like unmanned Mound Key Archeological Site and St. Lucie Inlet Preserve require a boat ride or a kayak paddle to physically visit the site and obtain a photo. Likewise, Yellow Bluff Fort in Jacksonville doesn’t actually have an entrance sign – just a plaque on a slab of concrete announcing the presence of the park.

Not long ago I had obtained photographs for all but two of Florida’s 152 actively managed state parks (there are 14 others that do not have a passport stamp or public access or both).

The two missing photos were for Egmont Key State Preserve at the mouth of Tampa Bay and Anclote Key State Park offshore from Tarpon Springs.  I attempted to get a picture of Anclote in February 2012 but the ferry system used put me on South Anclote Bar where there were no signs.

On July 28, 2012 I took the ferry from Fort De Soto Park in Pinellas County over to Egmont Key. I had last been on this island in the mid-1990s when I accompanied the National Wildlife Refuge manager there.

All of Egmont is a National Wildlife Refuge but part of it is managed as a state park through a cooperative agreement. On this trip I wanted to visit the state managed area to see and photograph the sign.

That was accomplished easily on a brilliantly hot and bright July weekend afternoon.

Leaving Egmont Key for the mainland I was one park short of my goal – a picture of Anclote Key’s sign. Before making the 90 minute drive to Tarpon Springs where I planned to hire a boat for half a day to run out to the main island, I called Anclote Key to confirm the presence and location of a sign.

Imagine my surprise when I was informed that there is no sign for Anclote Key! Thus when I took the picture of the Egmont Key sign I had completed my quest and now have a photograph for all the actively managed parks that possess a sign (although the signs for Terra Ceia and Cockroach Bay are marginal in their acceptance as a park entrance sign).

To commemorate this accomplishment I am going to post my picture of each of the State Park signs.

With the picture comes a small blurb about the park – something unique or some experience I have had there in each of my visits.  This post deals with all of the State Parks in the Southeast Region of Florida.  From there I will continue to work my way through the rest of the state in a subsequent posts.
Avalon State Park – Not far north of Fort Pierce, this little coastal gem protects some important coastal habitats, the most important of which are areas where sea turtles can lumber ashore and deposit their eggs.
Bahia Honda State Park – Why people call this “Baya-Honda” state park instead of the correct “Ba-he-ah” Honda is a mystery. Situated just south of the 7-Mile Bridge in the central Keys, Bahia Honda preserves some exquisite beach habitats just 40 miles from the craziness of Key West.
Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park – Just over the Rickenbacker Causeway from the insanity of downtown Miami, Bill Baggs is a magnet for unusual species of birds that make the trek over from the Bahamas. The only Bananaquit I have ever seen in the United States was hopping around in a causarina tree here one July day. There is also a way cool lighthouse here.
Curry Hammock State Park – West Indian hardwood hammock is the principal draw at this small island state park in the middle Keys.
Dagny Johnson Key Largo Hammock State Botanical Area – Protecting some of the rarest plant and animal species remaining in Florida this area of unique vegetation is co-managed with the Crocodile Lake National Wildlife Refuge.
Fort Pierce Inlet State Park – One of the surfer’s paradises of the east coast of Florida, Fort Pierce is a great place to see sharks of several species milling about offshore waiting for a tourist to make a stupid tourist move. I wish there were more sharks.
Fort Zachary Taylor State Park – The southernmost state park in Florida, Fort Zach preserves and interprets an important link in the military history of the Florida Keys. It is also a superb birding area with several highly sought after West Indian species seemingly regular here in spring migration.
Hugh Taylor Birch State Park – Just off Sunrise Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale, Hugh Taylor is used extensively and excessively by human recreationists. Despite that high level of use (or maybe because of it) vagrant bird species from the West Indies are regularly found here.
Indian Key Historic State Park – A short kayak paddle south of Mile Marker 78.5 on US Highway 1 in the Keys, Indian Key tells the interesting story of the first county seat of Dade County. It was a long time ago!
John D. MacArthur Beach State Park – Located in West Palm Beach, this is a location where it seems there are more nesting sea turtles than visiting humans at times. I like it like that.
John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park – One of the signature parks in the Florida State Park system John Pennekamp protects the northernmost coral reef in the world. It was also the first underwater park in the world. John Pennekamp is a must-see on the itinerary of any naturalist headed down the Keys
John U Lloyd Beach State Park – Located in Dania Beach, not far from the Fort Lauderdale International Airport and the cruise ship port John Lloyd Beach is a very popular site for city dwellers to hang out on the beach. The last time I visited this park I was told by the underpaid ranger at the main gate to walk into the building on the opposite side of him to get my stamp. Parking my car and walking to the opposite door I was assaulted by a Florida Park Service employee who pushed me out the door yelling “Stay the fuck out of here”. He can go screw himself.
Jonathan Dickinson State Park – Located adjacent to Hobe Sound National Wildlife Refuge the complex of habitats protected here is among the most unique in the Florida State Park system.
Lignumvitae Key State Park – Only the most dedicated state park visitors come here. Reachable only by private boat or kayak (I guess you could swim from the US 1 bridge 1 mile away also) this little island in the stream protects a biologically interesting collection of Keys habitats.
Long Key State Park – In the Middle Keys, it seems the primary management objective of Long Key is to satisfy the needs of RV campers more than it is to protect habitat.
Oleta River State Park – Not far north of the bowels of the Miami Metro area, Oleta River allows visitors the opportunity to feel like they are in a wilderness setting even though they are surrounded by a zillion human beings.
St. Lucie Inlet Preserve State Park – This is another boat, kayak, or swim state park on Florida’s east coast. One advantage of going here is that when you return to the mainland you can slide over to the Square Grouper Tiki Bar where the video for Jimmy Buffett’s song “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere” was filmed. At least that was a priority for me.
Savannas Preserve – This unique site protects the largest freshwater marsh on the southeast coast of Florida.
Seabranch Preserve – Not far from Stuart, Florida, and not far from the ocean, Seabranch Preserve protects a rare sand pine forest community that is now quite rare in Florida.
The Barnacle – One of the oldest homes in Miami and the Coconut Grove area, my visit to The Barnacle was marred by an exceedingly snotty Florida State Parks employee who should have left her bad day at home. She didn’t and instead treated me like a piece of dirt. I wrote to the park manager and complained. I never heard back.
Windley Key Fossil Reef Geological State Park – Windley Key was the source of fill material for the construction of the Henry Flagler’s “Overseas Railroad” that linked Key West to the mainland. The railway was obliterated by the September 1935 hurricane that destroyed so much of the upper keys. If you have an interest in geology you will enjoy this site. Take a lot of mosquito repellant with you when you go.

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